Nonsaccharine Inner-City School Movies

I spent two years teaching at a Title 1 middle school, which was, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Hearing a bit about my experience or the fact that I taught ‘inner-city’ (what does that even mean??? a euphemism for low-SES?) students, often people who cannot relate and know very little about all that such a job entails will respond, “Oh, so you’re like Hilary Swank in that movie Freedom Writers!”  Um, no.  Not really.

I’m not a huge fan of that movie for too many reasons to detail here and now.

That’s not to say that I don’t like education-related movies.  I do — in fact, four of the best movies I saw this past year are about teachers and students in inner-city schools; only, their storylines followed either teachers you don’t want to model or situations that don’t leave you feeling like you’re snuggled on the couch, sipping tea, eating a freshly baked cinnamon bun thinking, all is right with the world.

So there ’tis — so hot right now: films centered on inner-city school stories that don’t have prescriptively happy endings. Here’s a summary for each in twenty-words or less:

Notes on a Scandal: Teacher has sex with 14-year-old student & then seeks solace from veteran teacher (who turns out to be a sociopath). Chilling.

Waiting for Superman: Davis Guggenheim’s critically acclaimed documentary about how the public school system is failing our students. Accurate & heart-wrenching.

Half Nelson: Crack-addicted Ryan Gosling is an inner-city school teacher; wants to do right by his students…can’t do right by himself.

The Class: Starring François Bégaudeau (real-life teacher !) as a teacher at a tough school in Paris. Focuses on classroom ethics. French, documentary-feel.

*ampersands don’t count.

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